GAZA – From March 13- 14, 2019, Mr. Sami El-Yousef, Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate, visited the Gaza Strip and met with 20 of the beneficiaries of the youth employment program implemented by the Latin Patriarchate and funded by the German Lieutenancy of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
The main purpose of my two-day visit to Gaza was to check on the youth employment program, which was launched in October 2018 with funding from the German Lieutenancy of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. As we were approaching the halfway mark of this year-long training and employment program for the benefit of 20 unemployed Christian youth in Gaza, it was important to meet with the beneficiaries and visit some of the institutions where they are placed. A general meeting was held with the youth where they highlighted the great appreciation they have to the Latin Patriarchate and to the German donors for making this opportunity possible. As part of the discussions, most of them expressed their deep satisfaction with the practical experience they are gaining and were very content with their employers. Many felt that they were also benefiting the institutions where they were placed. The major comments regarding the capacity building training they received were that it was general in nature and needs to be followed by more in-depth training in a number of areas. This will be followed up by the project manager in Gaza over the next few weeks.
In addition to talking about the employment and their experiences, one could not separate the general living conditions they have to endure in Gaza. Though the electricity is coming for longer hours per day due to the subsidy from Qatar, this will be short lived since such funding will technically end in April. The USAID cuts to all funded projects in Gaza as well as cuts by the US administration to UNRWA meant that many people have either lost their jobs or are working with no salaries due to such cuts. Thus, the prevailing economic situation is on everyone’s mind as the Gaza economy is down to an almost standstill. Poverty is evident everywhere, and the lack of cash is affecting everyone including our school’s collection of tuition. Clean water supplies are almost non-existent and there is no change on the status of the sewage network which collapsed many years ago. Fatah and Hamas continue their internal infighting with almost no consideration to the suffering of the people, as the blockade from Israel continues. Thus, for these youth, the bright side in their life now is their employment and their ability to make a dignified income. What was clearly on their mind was what will happen to them when the program ends! Though we could not give any assurances for continued support at the present time, this is a major concern that needs to be taken into consideration as we move forward.
The next day was dedicated to visiting five of the institutions where our youth are placed: The Medical Relief Committees; Aysha for the defense of abused women; The Technical Construction Company; Atfaluna for the Hearing Impaired; and the Latin Parish. Between these five institutions, we have placed 10 of the youth. It was heartwarming to hear the feedback from the employers about our youth who were described as serious, hardworking, professional, trustworthy, taking initiatives, respectful, and many more wonderful qualities. All employers felt that not only are the youth benefiting from the employment and gaining valuable experience, but the institutions are truly benefiting from employment as well. This was very gratifying to all of us as some of them volunteered that they will not hesitate to keep them after our intervention ends. They all cautioned however about their institutional financial situation which is also very challenging. This was certainly very encouraging news for all of us as there will be good possibilities for continued employment for some of them.
One of the candidates placed at Aysha is Elias Fashho who has a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Elias has revamped the institution’s whole IT structure including hardware, systems, and software. Data security is now maintained, real savings realized, and the new systems meant a more efficient and cost-effective work environment. It was amazing listening to his superior as to how quickly Elias’s presence was felt and the added value generated since his employment. A most impressive young man that deserves to be supported and encouraged.
The three women placed at the Medical Relief Committees are as much impressive; from the pharmacist Marian Tarazi who is in charge of their medicine distribution center to all seven locations serving all of Gaza; to the medical records specialist Rawan Tarazi who is entrusted to maintain all patient records; to the medical technologist Elaine Salfiti who is in charge of their medical laboratory in one of their service centers. The passion with which the director described the professionalism and dedication of the three women was breathtaking.
And what about Maysaa Khoury, the pharmacist in charge at one of the biggest pharmacies on a busy street in Gaza City. She was ready to leave Gaza after being unemployed for a number of years after graduation. She is well settled in her new job and has a new lease on life as a young Christian calling Gaza home. She is now supporting her unemployed father and brother, being the sole breadwinner for the family.
I left Gaza a very proud man of what has been accomplished in the brief six months since the program was launched, especially that the German Lieutenancy decided to expand the program. With new funds on the way, we will be able very soon to offer an additional 10 new positions. Preparations are underway to expand the program very soon. In addition to the German funds, a private donor from the United States got enthusiastic about this program and decided to make a substantial donation that would allow us to offer an additional 16 positions. However, the focus of this new addition will be unskilled poor candidates from Gaza who are unemployed. Again, preparations are underway to expand the program further shortly. With the new additions, we will be covering very soon 46 employment opportunities to Christians from Gaza for a period of one year! The work of the church in supporting disadvantaged, weak, marginalized and poor members of our Christian community is at its peak in Gaza. Many thanks to Fr. Mario da Silva, parish priest of Gaza for his leadership role and to our most generous donors. You are making a huge difference in the lives of our people and giving them hope amidst an unbearable environment.
Sami El-Yousef Chief Executive Officer Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem 18 March 2019